A Prairie Home Companion (film)

A Prairie Home Companion is a 2006 ensemble comedy elegy directed by Robert Altman, his final film released just five months before his death. It is based on A Prairie Home Companion, a program broadcast on public radio stations in the United States and elsewhere. The film is a fictional representation of behind-the-scenes activities on a long-running radio show of the same name.


Five of the stars (Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Virginia Madsen) as well as all the other members of the cast of the film (except Sue Scott, Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan) are midwesterners. Three (Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and L. Q. Jones) are from Texas, the state given rough treatment by the WLT cast and crew.


A long-running live radio show is in danger of being cancelled by new owners of their parent company. The film takes place on their last night's performance, accompanied by two visitors. An angel (Virginia Madsen) calling herself Asphodel comes to comfort the people that work on this show and to escort people to the after life. A representative of the new owners is there to judge whether the show should be cancelled, and makes it clear that this show is not what he considers modern popular programming. The show does shut down. In an epilogue at the end of the film, while four of the former cast members are re-united at a diner, the angel comes in.

Production notes

To receive insurance for the shoot, 80-year-old Robert Altman had to hire Paul Thomas Anderson as a "backup" director to observe filming at all times and be prepared to take over for Altman in case of his incapacitation.. Principal photography for the film began on June 29, 2005 at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota (the usual venue for the radio show). Filming ended on July 28, 2005. The film was the second major picture (after North Country, starring Charlize Theron and Harrelson) to be filmed in Minnesota in 2005.

Because the Fitzgerald is a rather small building, other stage theaters in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region had been considered as stand-ins. With some effort, the necessary film equipment was crammed into the structure. The basement was also used for sets due to lack of space. Set design also had to make the show more visually interesting, and fake dressing rooms were used in the film (the movie's production designer noted that Keillor's actual dressing room is "about the size of a very, very small bathroom"). Mickey's Diner, a landmark of downtown St. Paul, is also featured.

On November 1, 2005, the Star Tribune reported that an early screening in New York City for film distributors resulted in a heavy bidding war. Picturehouse bought the rights, and company President Bob Berney, "aiming to capitalize on the name recognition of the 31-year-old radio program, recommended that the title revert to A Prairie Home Companion. 'At the screening, Garrison said that to broaden the film's appeal, they were thinking about changing the name to Savage Love, so we may have an argument there,' Berney said." The main potential audience for the film is people familiar with the radio program.

Critical response

A Prairie Home Companion opened the 2006 South by Southwest film festival on March 10, then premiered in St. Paul, Minnesota on a briskly cold May 3, 2006 at the Fitzgerald Theater, which had projection and sound equipment specially brought in for that purpose. The film's stars arrived in ten horse-drawn carriages. Brian Williams of the NBC Nightly News anchored his newscast from neighboring Minneapolis that night so that he would be able to attend.

The general reaction to the film by critics was favorable, as it garnered an 80% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, a site that tallies prominent reviews. Roger Ebert awarded the film four out of four stars, saying, "What a lovely film this is, so gentle and whimsical, so simple and profound.

It had its detractors, however. Film critic Michael Medved gave the film one and a half stars (out of four) saying, "The entertainment value stands somewhere between thin and non-existent" and, "[it may be] the worst movie ever made that pooled the talents of four (count ‘em - four!) Oscar winners

Desson Thomson from The Washington Post came between the two, saying that while the movie had its strengths, it was weaker than it should have been, in a review headlined "Honey, You Could Ask For More" (a reference to the opening theme song of the radio show and film).

Meryl Streep won the Best Supporting Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics for her role in this and The Devil Wears Prada; Altman was also posthumously nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director.

Box office

The film had a successful limited release in the States and grossed $20,338,609 domestically, with $25,978,442 being the worldwide gross.

DVD release

The DVD was released October 10, 2006.

Special features


External links

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